Gas Station may have been invented in Seattle in 1907.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2093
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In 1907, John McLean builds what some say is the world's first gasoline service station at Holgate Street and Western Avenue in Seattle.

Not all agree on this distinction. A historian for the Shell Oil Co. maintained that Shell subsidiary, Automobile Gasoline Co., offered drive-through refueling services in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905.

John McLean, head of sales in Washington for Standard Oil Company of California, purchased property adjacent to the Standard main depot and with engineer Henry Harris constructed a pipe from the main storage tank to a 30-gallon, six-foot-high galvanized tank. On the tank was a glass gauge and a valve with a hose so that the gasoline could be pumped directly into vehicles. Motorists typically purchased gasoline for their cars in wooden boxes containing two five-gallon cans from a general store or a livery stable in the same way that they bought kerosene for their lamps. The cans were filled from a storage tank on the premises and because the size of the refillable cans was known, there was no need for a measuring device on the tank.

Before 1890, gasoline was considered a waste byproduct of the oil refining process and it was used as a fuel at the refinery. By 1910, because of the development of the automobile, gasoline sales exceeded those of kerosene and other illuminating fuels. By 1913, there were 19,497 automobiles in Washington.

A plaque honoring the "world's first gas station" is located (January 2000) at Seattle's Waterfront Park.


Adam Woog, Sexless Oysters and Self-Tipping Hats: 100 Years of Inventions in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1991), 156-157; Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller (New York: Random House, 1998), 101, 556; "Money To Be Made: The Oil Marketing Story," National Petroleum News, February 1969, pp. 114-115.
Note: This essay was revised on July 20, 2001.

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